In a paper published last week, conservative economist Bruce Bartlett made the case that Fox News has had a significant effect on the political process and electoral outcomes in America, yet another contribution to the study of “The Fox Effect.”
Since Fox founder and chairman Roger Ailes opened shop in 1996, the effects of the powerhouse conservative channel on the media landscape have been widely noted. Bartlett, a onetime advisor to Rep. Ron Paul and President Ronald Reagan and official in the administration George H.W. Bush, cites several studies showing how Fox broke into an untapped market for a single conservative news source after years of FCC regulations which required equal time for political debate (the so-called “fairness doctrine” ended in 1987 under President Reagan.)
But Barlett also surfaced studies which show that that the Fox Effect changed not only Americans’ media diet, but their political behavior as well — boosting turnout for the GOP and pushing both Republicans and Democrats rightward in Congress.
A 2007 study in the Quarterly Journal of Economics found that the arrival of Fox had a “significant effect” on the presidential elections from 1996 to 2000: Republican candidates gained 0.4 to 0.7 percentage points in towns that broadcast the channel. (The research also credited Fox with GOP gains in the Senate.)
Meanwhile, a 2014 study by The National Bureau of Economic Research found that the likelihood of voting Republican increased by 0.9 points among viewers who watched “four additional minutes per week.”
Bartlett also found research that shows the Fox Effect caused congressmen in both parties to “increase their support for Republican policies.”
Last year, researchers out of Princeton and Vanderbilt found that during the Clinton years, members of Congress became “less supportive of President Clinton in districts where Fox News begins broadcasting than similar representatives in similar districts where Fox News was not broadcast.”
“Fox News caused both Republicans and Democrats in Congress to increase support for the Republican Party position on divisive votes,” a 2015 study by in Journal of Political Science found, “but only in the waning months of the election cycle and among those members who represent districts with a sizable portion of Republican voters.”
One final twist: These days, the misinformation peddled by Fox may actually lull conservative viewers and voters into a false sense of security.
Bartlett cited a University of Georgia study to argue that “wishful thinking” may have hurt Republicans’ efforts to take the White House in 2012.
“It may be that some Republican Fox viewers became complacent and didn’t work as hard as they might if they had been more aware of how badly Romney was doing in the final days of the campaign,” he wrote.